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Colorado concussions law most far-reaching in country

4:35 PM, Mar 29, 2011   |    comments
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While Bryant likely won't play hockey again, Karlis, 17, plans on returning to the ice - but not before learning about the potential long-term impacts concussions like the one that sidelined her for three weeks have on the brain, including mood and cognitive disorders.

"That completely freaked me out," said Karlis, who plays for the Colorado Select in the Junior Women's Hockey League and is the daughter of former Denver Broncos kicker Rich Karlis.

Concussions in youth sports are receiving more attention nationally, with several states passing laws that require coaches to be trained in recognizing head injuries so they can bench players if they suspect they may be hurt.

Colorado becomes the 13th state to require concussion training in youth sports. But unlike the majority of the other states that require training only for school-related athletics, Colorado would also include younger activities such as Little League baseball and Pop Warner football. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper planned to sign the training into law Tuesday.

The law is named after Jake Snakenberg, a Colorado high school student who died in 2004 after being hit during a football game. His family said doctors told him his injury was likely compounded by a concussion he suffered in a previous game that went undiagnosed.

Kelli Jantz, Snakenberg's mother, was behind Hickenlooper when he signed the bill.

"The fact that this bill shares the same number as the one on Jake's jersey is more than just a coincidence," she said. "This gives me some peace and some sense of purpose to our loss."

"There is no doubt in my mind that [Jake] is smiling down on us right now," she added.

About 135,000 children ages 5 to 18 are treated in emergency rooms annually for sports and recreation related concussions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"When a child is a victim of a head injury he or she must be removed from playing or from practice until complete recovery takes place," Sen. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) said.

"For me, because the child's brain is still development, is still immature, I think we need to take these injuries especially seriously," said Dr. Michael Kirkwood, a pediatric neuropsychologist at the Children's Hospital and co-director of the hospital's concussion program. Kirkwood said another reason to pay attention to brain injuries in youth sports is that there is little information about the long-term impacts concussions have on young athletes. Most of the information doctors know about the consequences of concussions come from the NFL.

"We don't have an answer yet for younger kids," Kirkwood said.

The NFL has taken an interest in the issue and has helped states craft legislation that address concussion training in youth sports. Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon are among the states that have passed laws similar to Colorado's that address head injuries in youth sports, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Utah signed a bill into law last week and California and Nebraska are among states with pending legislation.

Colorado's law applies to middle school and high school sports, as well as private clubs like the ones Bryant and Karlis played in. The training coaches are required to take is free and online and they would have to do it annually. The law also requires that health care provider examine players who are pulled from games before allowing them to return.

Bryant played hockey for seven years and was the goalie in an advanced youth hockey with the Colorado Rampage when he decided to retire after suffering five concussions in less than two years. Bryant said he often not see the players who collided into him skating by or when they crashed the net.

"As a goalie, you're really not focusing on the contact part, you're just trying to stop the puck," he said.

Bryant said he and his coaches handled his injuries correctly because he was never pressured to stay in a game or return prematurely. Although he's sad not to play, he said he recognizes that he's fortunate that he did not suffer more serious harm because he stayed in a game when he shouldn't have. He said he hopes Colorado's new law will help coaches recognized what is often an unrecognizable injury.

"You never know what's going to happen later on. I mean, it is your brain. It's different than a broken bone," he said.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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